Not long ago I was on the telephone with a certain federal judge. There was no adversary present. It did not begin as a social call, but soon we exchanged pleasantries.
"How's your garden?" I was asked.
"My garden is great. Far better than it should be given the mess Bush and company are making in the world. Why, just the other day, we assassinated some bushes to make way for clear growth." An anguished silence.
"Would you stop doing that," the judge said. "For all I know, the feds are listening."
I love putting the two italicized words together in phone conversations; I imagine an NSA computer burping in some Maryland basement.
Question? Am I now guilty of conspiracy to kill the president?
Of course not. Not even close.
But tell me, where is the line between mere advocacy and crime? Or, perhaps, in this world of post 9/11 fear, is there such a line any longer?
A case beginning trial in Florida may answer that question. A professor at the University of South Florida, Sami Al-Arian, is an outspoken supporter of the Palestinian jihad. Prosecutors say he went so far as to raise funds for the families of suicide bombers. Is he a terrorist or merely outspoken?
The law of conspiracy casts an awfully wide net, as experienced practitioners know from endless explanations of how a mule can be a co-conspirator in a drug prosecution when he doesn't even know the other thirty or so co-defendants.
The Al-Arian case is worth watching closely. It is one thing to cheer in the wake of a bombing, another to plan it. Is the government contending that Al-Arian is guilty merely because his praise of the first act made the second more likely? I hope not. Speech, even incendiary speech, must be protected.
Now, excuse me. The Sun shines and I am going out to use a weapon of mass destruction on part of the United States.